By now, nearly everyone has heard about the tremendous health benefits of consuming fish oil supplements that contain essential fatty acids, such as omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids. They are considered essential because they are vital for good health but cannot be produced by our bodies.[i]  Proper cell function is dependent upon the balance of these fats. The typical American diet has an over abundance of omega-6 fatty acids from refined oils, processed foods and grain fed meat, which has upset that balance. This imbalance or relative deficiency of omega-3 fatty acids has been linked to an increase risk for heart disease, diabetes[ii], arthritis[iii], depression, and age-related eye diseases.[iv] Fish oil has been found to be beneficial in lowering cholesterol, improving immunity, relieving back and joint pain, and lowering cardiovascular risk.[v] In a recent study, fish oil consumption over a five year period reduced the rate at which telomeres shorten; protecting against cellular aging in those with stable coronary artery disease.[vi] The popularity of fish oil has skyrocketed in the last several years and in a February 2010 poll, more respondents said they used fish oil than a standard multivitamin pill.

But a lawsuit filed by environmental groups earlier this month contends that fish oil supplements made or sold by CVS, GNC, Omega Protein and Rite Aid contain dangerously high levels of PCBs, and consumers were not informed. PCPs were banned by Congress in 1979 — and by U.N. Treaty in 2001 — due to their link to melanoma, liver cancer, and brain cancer, among others. Despite their three-decade hiatus from production, PCBs are still present in waterways and, unsurprisingly, in the fish that inhabit them. Indeed, eating fish is the most common route of exposure to PCBs.

So, do we take fish oil but risk the ill effect of PCB contamination? Or forget about fish oil all together and increase our risk of cardiovascular disease, high blood pressure, macular degeneration, joint aches and pain, inflammatory conditions and premature aging? Neither are good options. The health benefits of fish oil probably outweigh the small amount of chemical contamination, especially if you are vigilant about obtaining your fish oil from a trusted source. At Alternity Healthcare we only carry products that have been rigorously tested for quality, potency and purity.

[i] Connor WE. Importance of n-3 fatty acids in health and disease. Am J Clin Nutr 2000;71: 1715-55

[ii] Montori VM, Farmer A, et al. Fish Oil supplementation in type 2 diabetes: A quantitative systemic review. Diabetes Care 2000;23: 1407-15

[iii] Calder P. N-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids, inflammation and inflammatory diseases. Am J Clin Nutr 2006; 83:S1505-19

[iv] Seddon JM, et al. Cigarette smoking, fish consumption, omega-3 fatty acid intake, and associations with age-related macular degeneration: the twin Study of Macular Degeneration. Arch Ophthalmol 2006; (1)24: 95-1001

[v] Lavie, C. Journal of the American College of Cardiology, August 2009

[vi] Farzaneh-Far, et al. Association of Marine Omega-3 Fatty Acid Levels with Telomeric Aging in Patients with Coronary Artery Disease., JAMA. Vol 303,No. 3, Jan. 2010